WHY DID THE REFORMATION FAIL IN IRELAND
According the Brendan Bradshaw, the reigns of Edward VI and Mary represented a transitional phase in Tudor policy towards Ireland. The gradual introduction under Edward VI of an unambiguously Protestant religious settlement elicited an increasingly equivocal response from the local community. Bradshaw links Lord Deputy St. Leger's final recall in 1556, and the drift towards a more coercive political strategy, with the restoration of Catholicism under Mary and the opportunity thereby provided for the establishment of the Counter Reformation. He argued that in Ireland the official reform campaign was greatly hindered when latent tensions in the movement developed into a deep division between advocates of persuasion and coercion. This ultimately proved fatal, he suggested, when the split between advocates of rival reform strategies became associated with another political division which promoted an increasing polarisation in government between Old English and New English politicians. By the 1570s, therefore, at time when the Elizabethan settlement was consolidating its hold in England, the attitude of the Old English in Ireland was firmly fixed on recusancy.
A major source of information on the wealth and structure of the Tudor church in England and Wales in the early Reformation period was the Valor Ecclesiasticus. This was compiled in response to the administrative needs created by the Reformation Parliament's Act for First Fruits and Tenths (26 Hen. 8 c.3). The act effectively transferred to the new supreme Head the old Papal tax of annates on the income of major benefices, broadened into a tax of the first year's income of all benefices, and for good measure, added a continuing tax of a tenth of each subsequent year's income. The Valor was the product of a systematic survey of clerical income, and listed the value of each benefice in each diocese throughout England and Wales.
When the Irish reformation parliament met in May 1536, the government introduced similar bills for the Church in Ireland. An Act of First Fruits was passed that same month, but opposition in parliament eventually led to a modified Act of the Twentieth Part, passed in October 1537. The English tenth was reduced to one twentieth in Ireland. Nevertheless, the need was created for a survey similar to that carried out in England and Wales. The Dublin administration compiled a Valor Beneficiorum Ecclesiasticorum in Hibernia. Following the appointment in 1544 of a separate clerk to supervise the levy of these taxes, a First Fruits Office gradually developed in the exchequer with custody of the records relating to the first fruits and twentieths. All perished in the in the P.R.O. fire of 1922. However, a printed edition of the Valor had been made in the 18th century.
The nucleus of the entries were comprised of the English Lordship in Ireland in the late Middle Ages. To these were added piecemeal valuations from other diocese as they came under crown control. The entries then are a fair indication of the extents of the Lordship: Armagh (inter Anglicos, plus the rectory of Carrickfergus), Meath, Dublin, Kildare (excluding 14 benefices mainly in the Irishry), Ossory, Ferns; half of Leighlin, excluding the Gaelic Lordship of Leix), Cashel and Waterford. In addition five benefices on the borders of C. Meath, but in the diocese of Kilmore and Ardagh, and nine benefices in the diocese of Waterford were supplied from a visitation book and an old taxation book form Trinity College. About half the benefices in Limerick diocese (but not the bishopric itself) were also valued in pounds Irish. In the 15350s, other valuations were added. For example, most of Tuam Archdiocese was assessed in 1585-86.
It has long been accepted that the ability of the Government to secure enforcement of ecclesiastical changes in the parish was to a large extent determined by the value of the livings and the size of the parishes. When benefices were sufficiently rich to attract there services of well-qualified or graduate clergy, and where parishes were comparatively small, as in most of England, more effective for conversion and control could be brought into play. In English north, Wales, and most of Ireland, where disperse patterns of settlement were the norm, parishes were larger and livings poorer. Thus the government's ability to secure conformity was correspondingly reduced. The Valor Ecclesiasticus suggests that a benefice with a clear income of £13 per annum was about the minimum on which the rector of the vicar could comfortably subsist. In England however, about half the livings were worth less than £10 per annum; in Wales the proportion was 70%; The Irish Valor suggests that in English Ireland 85% of the livings were worth only IR£15 (£10) or less. And since in parts of Wales and England, the poverty of livings was identified as a major cause of the ignorance of the clergy, the situation in Ireland was obviously more serious. Of course before the Reformation, when priests were expected only to read Mass and administer the sacraments, this did not matter that much. But in a period of rapid fundamental change, when the literacy requirements replaced visual ones, a much higher level of literacy was demanded. Thus in Ireland, where peace was precarious, and the government's general powers of control weak, the chances of recruiting a highly qualified ministry for reform in the parish was clearly remote.
Pre Reformation Ireland was divided into 32 diocese, whereas England, much larger and wealthier, and more populous, had only 17, and Wales only 4. In England, the valuations ranged from £411.0.11 in Rochester to £3,880 in Winchester. Compare these figures with those for Ireland and Wales.
Professor Williams considered that the major reason for the slow progress of the Reformation in Wales was the comparative poverty of the livings there by English standards. Yet,as this table shows, the position was decidedly worse in Ireland.
Overall therefore, the contract between Dublin and Meath dioceses suggests that even where, exceptionally, the church's endowments were anyway adequate, unsympathetic patrons were still sometimes able to thwart the reform campaign by presenting ill-qualified ministers to livings. Elsewhere, however, the chances of attracting qualified clergy were even less. The Valor shows that in those 22 diocese for which the valuation were chiefly made between 1584 and 1630 only 19 benefices, including nine bishoprics, were returned ass worth £30 or more per annum. Together with the Henrician returns , these figures suggest that the number of Church of Ireland livings which were suitable for resident preachers may by 1603 have been little more than 100. For the most part, the only way of providing ministers with an adequate income was to licence pluralism on a substantial scale by uniting two or three benefices. In other words, the Church opted for quality rather than quantity. The net result of these changes was a creditable 21% increase in the number of clergy in the south and west between the two royal visitations of 1615 and 1634, made up of 61% increase in the number of preachers and a 44% decline in the number of reading ministers. In Ulster, the position was even better, but mainly because the authorities took advantage of the plantation there to effect a substantial re-endowment of church livings. Even so, correlation of the incomplete returns for the visitations of 1615 and 1622 suggests that in 1615 the Church of Ireland had 800 clergy to serve 2,492 parishes; and even in 1622 there were still only 380 preachers, and more than one-third of these in Ulster/. In view of the pitifully inadequate endowment of the Tudor church, he subsequent creation of a qualified preaching ministry was a signal achievement. Yet the paucity of ministers, and particularly preachers, meant that in many parts of the country the Church of Ireland simply lacked an effective presence.
Overall therefore, the evidence concerning the distribution of ecclesiastical wealth in the pre-Reformation Ireland and its appropriation and redistribution by the Tudor government suggests that these matters were of fundamental importance in determining the actual impact of the government's campaign for the reform of the parishes. Broadly, the evidence indicates that the Irish church had only two diocese -Dublin and Meath- in which its financial resources were anyway adequate to mount the sort of campaign contemplated in England. It also reveals that these two diocese suffered disproportionately from the monastic dissolutions. Finally, it suggests that, even allowing for these factors, the ecclesiastical authorities still failed to make the best use of available resources. Lay impropriators were permitted to strip the Church further of its wealth or to promote inadequately-trained curates to serve livings, so that far too few preachers were available for the intended campaign of conversion. Of course it does not necessarily follow that a plentiful and qualified preaching ministry would have created a Protestant Ireland. But without the resources to support one, the Church of Ireland's prospects were bleak indeed. And such evidence as we have does suggest that where the Irish church enjoyed the services of highly-educated, able and committed preachers - such as Bishop John Bale in Kilkenny (1552-53), and for much of this period in Dublin, it did make progress.
Nevertheless, it would be simplistic to argue that the outcome of the Reform movement in Ireland was chiefly determined by the comparative poverty of Irish benefices. If this were the case, then the result would simply have been to slow the progress of reform, as happened in other Tudor borderlands, without altering the eventual outcome. To an extent of course the task was a more manageable one under Henry VIII. The Henrician Reformation was a far less radical departure from late Medieval Christianity than the Elizabethan settlement: indeed particularly in its association of the Crown with ecclesiastical reform, it was a logical continuation of developments in the pre-Reformation Church in Ireland. It was also confined to the English parts of the country, where the government could appeal to traditions of loyalty and deference to authority in support of its campaign. Yet, even in England, the conversion of a reluctant population depended not simply on the mobilisation of the official machinery of church and state to educate and enforce, but increasingly also on private initiatives. The founding of grammar schools and puritan lectureships are major examples of this. Conversely, unsympathetic Catholic nobles and gentry on the commissions of the peace, on ecclesiastical commissions, or simply by maintaining recusant priests for themselves and their tenants, could do much to hinder the progress of the Reformation. And it is here that the crucial differences lay.
In Ireland, given the very inadequate resources and machinery available to church and state for enforcing ecclesiastical change, the attitude of local nobles and gentry in determining the eventual responses to the Tudor Reformation was correspondingly vital. And, without doubt, political relations between the Dublin administration and the Englishry of Ireland grew increasingly strained after mid-century. This in turn reduced the level of local support and co-operation for the government's ecclesiastical policies. The central importance of this development in determining the definitive local response to the Tudor reformation may be measured from the particular pattern of Catholic recusancy in Ireland. In view of the fact that the Church of Ireland faced far more serious problems in operating in Gaelic Ireland, and that the Reform campaign there was closely associated with military conquest, it might be expected that the Counter Reformation movement would find a very receptive audience in Gaelic Ireland. Paradoxically however, the evidence available suggests that post-Tridentine Catholicism was established more firmly and at an earlier date in the English Pale and towns which had traditionally provided the backbone of English rule in Ireland. It chief supporters were the old English merchants, nobles and gentry in these regions. Indeed it is sometimes possible to show that the children and the grandchildren of these nobles, gentry and merchants who had supported and profited form the Henrician Reformation were, under Elizabeth, accounted leading Catholic recusants, most notably Viscount Baltinglass.
At first glance this paradox seems not simply to highlight the gross inadequacy of the resources of Church and state for enforcing change in English Ireland, but even to suggest its total irrelevance to the problem, for the Church in Gaelic Ireland was poorer still. This probably underlines the fact that the Reformation struggle for the hearts and minds of the people was not simply determined by the will of the princes, which was the normal pattern in Europe. Rather, it depended on the overall balance of pressures, both official and informal, which each side could bring to bear. And in Ireland, where the channels and government control and influence were weaker than elsewhere in Tudor territories, private pressures and resources were correspondingly more important. Thus, even though English Ireland was more susceptible to government pressure than Gaelic Ireland, and the church there much richer, it may well be that the political community there could for its own reasons exert sufficient countervailing pressures to negate this advantage. A brief comparative survey of the progress of the Reformation in English Ireland and Wales will perhaps best illustrate this point.
In assessing the reasons for this slow progress, Williams notes in particular the poverty of the livings and the scattered nature of the population and the large upland parishes, so that the machinery for enforcement of change was far weaker than in most of England. He also draws attention to the low levels of literacy and learning. Since the acceptance of the Reformation involved a shift from a visual presentation of religion, centred on the miracle of the Mass, to a biblio-centric presentation of religion, based on bible-reading and sermons, the basic impact of the Protestant message was much blunted among the lower, non-literate orders of society. Thus the popular Reformation was largely delayed until the eighteenth century Methodist revival. Finally, in a society which was only partially English-speaking, the Protestant emphasis on sermons and vernacular services also posed major problems; separate provision had to be made for worship in Welsh, although the bishops at least were often monoglot Englishmen.
Since all these arguments applied also, to a greater or lesser extent, in English Ireland, why was it that the local response to the Tudor Reformation was so different? It might well be expected that there also the pattern of grudging conformity and declining catholic survivalism would be repeated, followed two or three centuries later by a popular Reformation feeding on the rising level of literacy. The traditional explanation for the failure of such a pattern to emerge is of course the impact of the Counter-Reformation. Yet why was the Dublin administration unable -unlike the Tudor administration in Wales- to keep this movement under control? And, as we have seen, the existence of an independent Gaelic Ireland beyond the Crown's control, is at best only a partial answer. Clearly the urgent political need to reduce Gaelic Ireland distracted the Dublin administration from the task of enforcing religious conformity in the English parts. But this does little to explain why the old English merchants and gentry were the earliest champions of port-Tridentine Catholicism in Ireland. Arguably the key to the peculiar response of English Ireland was to be found in both the different political environment there, and, paradoxically, its more anglicized structure of society.
In both Wales and English Ireland, opponents of change sought to portray the Tudor reformation not simply as a novelty but as an English and foreign implant on Celtic christianity. This charge was potentially more damaging in Wales, where many of the gentry were native Welsh rather than a colonial aristocracy. Perhaps partly for this reason there was, from the outset, a much more vigorous campaign to make service books available in Welsh and to provide the state church there with a respectable Celtic ancestry. Moreover, although Elizabeth might claim to be "mere English", Welshmen were keenly aware of the Tudors' Welsh origins, whereas in Ireland the native culture was identified by the government with resistance to English rule. For example, by 1552 at least six books had appeared in Welsh, including translations of the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Epistles and Gospels for the Book of Common Prayer. And full translations of the Book of Common Prayer itself and the New Testament followed in 1567. Thus most of the necessary works for monoglot Welsh Protestants had appeared before the Gaelic translation of Knox's Liturgy in 1567 (which in any case was for Scottish Protestants), the catechism and the New Testament in 1603. In consequence, the growth of a substantial native Protestant tradition in Wales ensured that the Reformation was quickly accepted as an indigenous, home-grown movement; on the other hand, English and Protestant were synonymous in Ireland. The Gaelic word Sasanach referred to both. In fact the Englishry of Ireland found themselves increasingly excluded under Elizabeth from positions of influence in the Dublin administration. Instead, adventurers from England were preferred. In fact these adventurers questioned the right of the Englishry to call themselves Englishmen, and questioned their ability as cultural degenerates to promote true religion and English civility among the natives. In these circumstances, co-operation and support for the government's anglicizing policies was withdrawn.
The thrust of Elizabethan policy in Ireland tended to generate local opposition, not only among the intended victims of that policy, the independent Gaelic chiefs, but also among the traditional upholders of English values there, the colonial aristocracy. Yet the Englshry of Ireland were in a much stronger position to oppose these developments in Tudor policy than were their contemporaries in Wales. In the absence of a nobility -Englishmen with estates both in England and in Wales- the leadership of Welsh society rested with the gentry there. And, as Professor Williams has shown, whereas many Welsh gentry opposed the religious changes, very few had the resources or inclination to harbour recusant priests as household chaplains. Whiles Wales did produce many seminary-trained priests, very few of them returned to Wales. Yet int he long term catholic chaplains proved the only reliable bulwark against the creeping pressure for conformity, as the traditional Catholic priesthood died out and was replaced in the parishes by committed Protestants. By and large, the later pattern of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in England too mirrored not so much those areas in which traditional Catholicism had been particularly vigorous before the Reformation, but those parts in which Catholic nobles and gentry were prepared to maintain recusant priests in their households for themselves and their tenants. And in the English Pale in Ireland, where the aristocracy was comparatively prosperous, this phenomenon of gentry-based recusancy seems to have emerged fairly early in Elizabeth's reign.
The second major difference between Ireland and Wales was the comparative importance and vitality of the towns in Ireland and their absence from Wales.The significance of the urban factor in the context of the Reformation is twofold. First, with their large populations, accumulations of wealth, and higher levels of literacy, they exercised a major influence in moulding public national opinion. One early Tudor official had described towns as "the anchors of the state". In Scotland, it is noticeable that the earliest strongholds of Protestantism were the east coast ports which traded with Denmark and north Germany. In Ireland however many of the seaport towns had strong trading links with the Iberian peninsula. And, like the Pale gentry, the leading merchant families of the towns could well afford to support Catholic priests. Already by the mid-1560s the leading merchants of Waterford were sending relatives abroad for training in continental seminaries. Finally, and quite unaccountably, the authorities in Ireland neglected to secure the passage in parliament of an Irish counterpart to the act of dissolving the chantries. In terms of revenue, this was probably not a very costly omission. Yet the medieval guilds and chantries were concentrated in the towns. And the revenue from these endowments continued to be used for the maintenance of Catholic priests and services. Thus in the towns of Elizabethan Ireland one of the chief institutions underpinning the faith of the late medieval urban laity remained entirely intact.
The colonial aristocracy and the towns were decisive in determining the outcome of the Reformation. As we have seen, church endowments of the Church of Ireland were hopelessly inadequate and there was a growing alienation of the Old English from government. This left the field wide for leading merchants and gentry to collectively marshal the necessary resources to thwart the government's campaign. By 1603 this setback had developed form a temporary hiccup to a permanent feature. By then the nature and scale of the Irish problems had grown far beyond the capacity of the early Stuart government to resolve. Among the Old English, grudging conformity had given way to outright recusancy. Full scale coercion would have required a massive standing army and, given the emergence in official circles in England of a tacit acceptance of freedom of conscience, such a move would not have been politically acceptable. Furthermore, James I hadn't sufficient interest in Ireland in any case and, to compound the problems, he hadn't the resources at his disposal to pay for the army required.
The only other alternative was a wholesale reendowment of the Church of Ireland. They would have had to rebuild the parish churches, staff them with plentiful and well-educated preaching ministers, recruited and trained through a national system of diocesan schools and an adequately endowed Dublin university. Again, the crown could not afford such a programme. This leaves us with the classic Tudor strategy for the enforcement of religious change: a gradualist approach encouraging local support and manipulating habits of loyalty to harness private resources to the machinery of church and state.
If, after 1547, the government had retained the support of the Englishry in the Henrician Reformation, then there was no reason why an officially-inspired Reformation would not gradually have spread from the Pale and major towns to all parts of Ireland. It would be an integral part of the anglicizing process. Mid-Tudor developments were central in shaping the eventual outcome of the Tudor Reformation in Ireland. The possibility of a Protestant breakthrough was effectively ruled out by the poverty of the ecclesiastical endowment and the inadequacy of government control. The attitude of the Old English community was crucial. Their growing political alienation from government after 1547 provided the agents of the counter-Reformation with a receptive and influential base from which to organise. This of course did not mean the immediate failure of the reformation. For one thing, the Englishry initially saw political and religious developments as separate grievances. The identification of the two did not happen until after 1580. Moreover, the government could have reversed its policy of increasing reliance on the New English officials. However, it did not do so. And for this reason, historians are justified in viewing mid-Tudor developments as central to the failure of the Reformation in Ireland.
The restoration of Garret Mor Fitzgerald to the chief governship in 1496 inaugurated a period of uninterrupted Kildare rule in Ireland. This lasted for almost a quarter of a century. Down until 1519 Henry VII and Henry VIII allowed Garret Mor and, after 1513, his son Garret Og, to monopolise the office of Deputy. The main reason for this heavy reliance on the Kildare earls was financial. They were able to govern Ireland in the King's name without the need for subventions from English revenue. The flurry of interest in Ireland, provoked by the activities of Yorkist pretenders, now subsided and, while plans to reform the Lordship might be contemplated, their implementation foundered on the harsh realities of the costs involved. On one occasion at least, Henry VII did seriously consider an expedition to Ireland. The project was discussed at the English council in December 1506 when the king stated his intention to 'make a personal voyage ...for the repression of the wild Irish and the redress and sure reduction of the said land.' The advice of the Council was that such an enterprise would require an army of at least six thousand men equipped with three large field guns, four hundred arquebuses, sixty light canon and five hundred handguns. In view of the vast expense involved, it is not surprising that the plan was shelved. Ireland neither presented a sufficient threat nor promised ample enough rewards to justify such a large outlay. Granted the comparative stability achieved by the Kildare rule, it slipped back to its normal low position on the scale of English priorities.
The delegation of royal authority to the earls of Kildare meant that the king need not concern himself directly with Irish problems. The price to be paid for freedom from such cares was a large degree of independence for the Kildare earls in the exercise of their governmental functions. After 1496,the major portion of royal revenues in Ireland was paid directly to Kildare, the administration was staffed with his supporters, and it was on his military strength that the defense of the Pale depended. The use of such terms as "all but king" of Ireland to describe Garret More Fitzgerald can be misleading if it implies that the Kildare could or would sever his links with the crown and ruled Ireland as a separate entity. For all but four years (1492-96) of an official career which spanned 35 years, the Great Earl was the king's chief representative in Ireland, and there is no evidence to suggest that he wished for any position other than this. There was no necessary conflict of interests between the king and the earl. The discussion of Irish affairs at the English council of 1506 was initiated by the earl's request for aid to deal with the menace of the O'Briens in the south-west and, if the projected royal expedition had taken place, its success would ultimately have enhanced rather than diminished the earl's power by the extension of the Dublin government's authority over the recalcitrant areas of the country.
Traditional interpretations of the revolt of Silken Thomas have relied heavily on the lively and colourful account of the episode written some forty years later by the Dublin chronicler Richard Stanihurst. He describes how the immature and headstrong Thomas, on hearing the false report that his father had died while in the custody of the Crown in London, plunged into an ill-advised revolt. This so saddened his father that he died within a short time, "wishing on his death bed that he had either died before had heard of the rebellion, or that his brainless son had never lived to raise the like commotion." Responsibility or blame for the outbreak was firmly assigned to Thomas. His impetuosity led him into a course of action of which, it was implied, his father would never have approved. This account was accepted as an objective interpretation of accurate facts by orthodox historians up to very recent times. For example, Dr. G.A. Hayes-McCoy, (died 27th November 1975) could still write in 1969: "Enraged at the treatment of his father, whom he mistakenly believed to have been executed...etc".
While Stanihurst's account can be shown to be accurate in many of its details, its overall reliability is marred by its ulterior purpose. Composed at a time when Stanihurst himself was employed as a tutor to the son of the restored eleventh earl of Kildare, it sought to demonstrate that the Fitzgeralds of Kildare had a record of consistent loyalty to the Crown and that the 1534 rebellion was an isolated aberration from the normal pattern, attributable to the rashness and inexperience of Thomas himself. The determination to rescue the Kildare family from any stain of open disloyalty to the crown dictated the stance adopted by Stanihurst towards the events of 1534. It explains why he stressed the flaws in Thomas' personality as the basic reason for the uncharacteristic lapse from fidelity to the king. Recent examination of contemporary evidence have pointed to different and more complex origins of the rebellion.
One elaboration on Stanihurst's account can easily be dismissed: the view that the English government deliberately spread a false report of the earl's death in order to provoke Thomas into revolt. For it is abundantly clear that the authorities in England were totally taken by surprise and needed almost four months to mount effective countermeasures to the rebellion. The measure of spontaneity in the outburst must be severely qualified. Discussion about a step of this kind had been taking place for some weeks before Thomas made his dramatic renunciation of allegiance on June 11th. In fact preparation for this event can be traced back to the previous Autumn when the Earl himself removed the royal artillery to his own castles. But the most serious gap in Stanihurst's case is the role of Garret Og himself in the affair: far from being displeased with his son's conduct, the earl positively encouraged him to such course of action. Indeed it seems probable that it was Garret Og, who, despite his failing health, determined the timing of the rebellion.
What lay behind the old earl's encouragement of his rebellious son? He had just heard in London of the decision to reappoint Sir William Skeffington as chief Governor. And despite the fact that he was imprisoned in the Tower as soon as news of the rebellion reached London, this did nothing to diminish his approval of Thomas' actions.
CAUSES OF THE REBELLION
In one sense the 1534 outbreak can be viewed as simply a continuation of the traditional Kildare policy of stirring up trouble in Ireland in order to keep or regain the office of Governor. The successive removals of Garret Og from office had all resulted in greater disorder with Ireland. Through covertly fermenting rebellion the Earl sought to demonstrate his indispensability to the king. The Silken Thomas rebellion differed in its timing in that it was a preemptive strike designed to forestall his removal from office. This decision had been taken but not implemented, rather than a protest against a removal that had already taken place. But also, and more importantly, it differed in scale. For there was a real distinction between the covert intrigues in which Garret Og indulged to ferment opposition among his allies in Ireland, and the open declaration of rebellion against the Crown, made in the Summer of 1534. It is true that the memory of the Great Earl had been invoked in the previous year to justify a policy of defiance of the King. One of Cromwell's spies in Ireland reported that Garret Og's half-brother Thomas had been encouraged to rebel int eh following terms:
"What, you fool, you shall be more esteemed in Ireland to take part against the King. For what would you have been had your father not done so? What was he det by until he crowned a king here, took Garth, the king's captain, prisoner, resisting Poynings and all deputies....would suffer no man rule here for the king but himself. Then the King regarded him, made him deputy and married your mother to him."
This was a somewhat simplistic appraisal of the Great Earl's policy (the myth was already in the making) but the message was clear. The Kildare family stood to gain more by opposition than by obedience.
While such argument might have persuaded some towards a more radical policy, they do not in themselves provide a satisfactory explanation as to why Kildare resistance to the crown policy escalated into open rebellion in 1534. For that we must look to English intentions for Ireland and the Kildare reaction to them.
Cromwell's programme of reform for the Irish lordship contained little that was new. It was designed, like similar previous schemes, to revive the institutions of government within the English area of the country, to curb the opportunities for maladministration by the chief governor, and to eliminate or control various abuses derived from Gaelic society, most notable the system of coign and livery. Kildare interests were directly attacked only in the repudiation of the claim that the county of Kildare constituted a liberty, an area lying outside the normal jurisdiction of the crown. This "pretended liberty" was to cease to be the private preserve of the earls of Kildare and to be integrated, like other counties, into the revived system of local government. But there is nothing in the programme to suggest that Cromwell was aiming at the complete overthrow of the Kildare family.
The novelty lay not in the remedies prescribed but in the determination to implement them. Taken in conjunction with the decision to reappoint Skeffington as Chief Governor, and the efforts to persuade Thomas himself to come to London, Cromwell's interest in Ireland seemed to usher in the most determined attempt yet made to solve the problem of governing Ireland without the dependence on the earls of Kildare. Rightly or wrongly, Garret Og and his son now believed that the supremacy their family had enjoyed in Ireland for over a half century was seriously under threat. A failure to act immediately could lead to their permanent relegation to a position of comparative insignificance in the administration of the country. Only the conviction that there was an urgent need to deflect the course of royal policy can explain the huge gamble that was taken in 1534. The objective of the rebellion was to persuade the king that he could not afford to abandon his reliance on the Kildare Earls in the government of Ireland. Defiance of the Crown, it was hoped, would lead to the restoration of their position as the crown's chief representatives in the country. The demands put forward by Silken Thomas make this clear. He wanted a royal pardon for the rebellion and permission to hold the chief governorship of Ireland for life. Dr. Steve Ellis and Dr. Brendan Bradshaw have concluded independently that the Rebellion of Silken Thomas, far from being the occasion of the introduction of centralising policies, was actually a premeditated response to such policies. Thomas Cromwell emerges as central; Silken Thomas appears as the executor of a preconceived contingency plan, and the rebellion now takes its proper place in the context of complex political designs which aimed to assimilate a scaled-down Kildare Lordship into a new political order. The plans attracted influential local support, and they were resisted by force because they were recognised for what they were: in the words of Bradshaw, "the Fitzgeralds were victims, therefore, not of their enemies, but of their own refusal to adapt to a new political order." Ellis ascribes more importance to the religious dimension than does Bradshaw, but what is in question between them is rather the way in which the rebellion developed rather than the reasons why it began.
There is no doubt but that the circumstances in which the rebellion occurred gave it a wider significance than its own limited objectives. Shortly after its inception, it was reported that Silken Thomas's adherents were claiming that they were "of the pope's sect and band, and him will they serve against the king and all his partakers; saying further that the king is accursed and as many as take his part, and shall be ope3nly accursed." This proclamation of support for the papacy against the excommunication of Henry VIII craftily linked the cause of the rebels with the opposition to the religious reformation in England. By playing the religious card, Thomas strengthened his own hand in his dealing with the English King at a time when the latter faced resistance to his policies within England itself. More important, his appeal to religion transformed the struggle into a rebellion of international significance for which he could seek the support of Catholic powers in Europe, in particular, the Emperor Charles V. If the latter were to intervene, then the revolt could achieve dimensions which could threaten even Henry VIII's hold on this throne.
Initially the prospect of Spanish intervention seemed bright indeed. As early as July 1534, it was reported that an agent of Charles V was in the territories of the earl of Desmond. It was widely rumoured that the Emperor did indeed intend to send and army to Ireland. Through his own embassies to both the Emperor and the Pope, Thomas attempted to capitalise on the portrayal of the rebellion as a Catholic crusade against a heretical king. While his cause excited interest and attention in both courts, in the end he received little more than fair words. With hindsight we can see that there was never any likelihood that Charles V would intervene in Ireland. But the belief among the rebels that Spanish assistance was on its way did prolong the rebellion and probably accounts for the fact that Thomas' surrender was delayed until August 1535, long after it was apparent that his dwindling domestic support provided him with no hope of success.
The decisive military intervention came in October 1534 when Sir William Skeffington landed at the head of the largest English army seen in Ireland since the expedition in 1399 during the reign of Richard II. This army consisted of 2,300 men, drawn largely from Wales and the North. Its arrival indicated that Henry VIII was prepared to call Kildare's bluff and that the original gamble had failed. Faced with the King's clear determination to crush the rebellion rather than negotiate a settlement, Silken Thomas, earl of Kildare since his father's death in London in September 1534, could no longer insist that his objective was merely to alter crown policy towards Ireland. Now he was forced to attempt the destruction of the Crown itself. This rebellion had begun as a protest. But, in its closing phase, the rebellion assumed the character of a war to free Ireland from English control, with Thomas increasingly relying on Gaelic Irish support within the country and the prospect of Catholic aid from outside. But the military advantage always lay with Skeffington, and the rebels had cause to rue their earlier failure to take Dublin, which became his base. His delay there during the Winter of 1534-1535 drew a rebuke from his royal master. But once his forces were mobilised in the Spring, they quickly demonstrated their superiority. The fall of the Kildare stronghold at Maynooth in March 1535 was the beginning of the end. In the following August Thomas surrendered on terms which guaranteed his life.
The suppression of the rebellion marks a clear turning point in the history of Ireland. For it was followed by significant changes within the country itself as well as in English attitudes towards it. Most obviously it spelt the end of that Kildare dominance which had for so long been a central featured of the Irish political scene. Indeed it almost led to the total destruction of the family itself. Silken Thomas soon learned that the King's promises to his political opponents were even more brittle than those made to his wives and chief ministers. Thomas was executed, along with his five uncles in February 1537 in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace. His nine year old half-brother, Gerald, was rescued from a similar fate by his aunt Eleanor and subsequently escaped to the continent in the Autumn of 1539. In the reign of Queen Mary his claim to the title of the earl of Kildare was recognised. But his restoration to the earldom brought no return to the preeminent political position once enjoyed by his ancestors.
The year 1534-35 also saw the discontinuation of the policy of entrusting the government of Ireland to leading members of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. The rebellion brought the abandonment of the practice of delegating royal authority, within Ireland,to any great Anglo-Irish lord. The English government finally accepted the view, sporadically expressed from within the pale throughout the late medieval period (particularly in the Ormonde-Talbot dispute of 1441-1444 when an appeal was made by local lords for the appointment of a great English born lord to Ireland), that it would be better served in Ireland by a chief Governor of English birth. Henceforward, English commitments in Ireland greatly increased with the need to provide not only an English official to head the Irish executive, under the overall direction of London, but also an army from England to enforce his authority.
That change coincided with another which, in the long run, was to be even more important: the extension to Ireland of the religious reformation brought about in England by Henry VIII. Cromwell's programme for Ireland in 1534 had included an intention to introduce the necessary legislation at the next parliament to be held in Ireland. The rebellion naturally postpone the issue, but in 1536-37, the Irish parliament followed its English counterpart in accepting measures which rejected the pope's authority and recognised the king as the supreme head of the Irish Church. There was little overt opposition to this, perhaps not surprisingly. Whereas the English dissent form the King's programme followed upon the enactment of the legislative proposals, in Ireland the legislation had been preceded by the crushing of a rebellion which had sought to rally support by proclamations of loyalty to the pope and the denunciations of the King as a heretic. Those who were prepared to fight for the papal cause had already shown their hand and had paid the price. And the association already established between fidelity to Catholicism and treasonable rebellion was sufficient to deter most from resistance to the reformation measures.
There was little enthusiasm, even within the Pale, for the new Order. And as yet it had barely touched the Gaelic areas of the country. These, by and large, lay beyond the scope of the reformation legislation and the programme of the dissolution of the monasteries which succeeded it. The extension of the Henrecian reformation to the rest of Ireland depended upon the Crown's ability to establish its authority over it. Cromwell's plans for Ireland had concentrated upon securing control for a rehabilitated Irish administration over the Pale, or an extended version of it. He had given little consideration to the problems posed by the Gaelic Irish Lordship.
Yet, the disappearance of the Kildare family removed both a buffer and a mediator between the English process of government and the Gaelic Irish lords, now confronted with the direct exercise of English rule. Within Ireland there were some who saw in the suppression of the rebellion a golden opportunity to extend the authority of the Crown over the whole country. These urged the king to return to the policy of conquest which he had optimistically if briefly espoused in 152021. But Henry VIII had no stomach of the expenses involved, particularly after the large expenditure entailed in putting down the rebellion. The reduction of the strength of the English army in Ireland in 1537 signalled his unpreparedness to embark on the ambitious project suggested to him. Instead, under Lord Leonard Gray, a policy of piecemeal campaigning was adopted, whereby the Deputy's troops invaded individual Lordships and attempted to exact tribute from them. This policy brought few lasting benefits; for while Gray could achieve military success in these skirmished with the Gaelic forces, he was unable to consolidate his victories. Sir Anthony St Leger, then a royal commissioner in Ireland, pinpointed the problem in a despatch to England in 1537 about an expedition into the territory of the O'Connor of Offaly: "The same country is very much easier won than kept, for whensoever the King';s pleasure be to win the same again, it will be done without great difficulty; but the keeping thereof will be both chargeable (ie. costly) and difficult."
In addition, Gray's aggressive stance alienated many of the Gaelic Irish leaders and it was one of the factors which led to the formation of an alliance among a number of them in support of the youthful heir to the Kildare earldom. The Geraldine League, as it was called, achieved a rare degree of co-operation among the Gaelic leaders in opposition to the Crown and its agent within Ireland, Lord Leonard Gray. It brought together not only the inveterate Ulster rivals, O'Neill and O'Donnell, but also O’Connor’s of Sligo, O'Neills of Clandeboye and a group of lesser lords from both Ulster and Connacht. The League also attempted to exploit the religious issue to its own benefit and remained i9n being after the defeat at Bellahoe (when Lord Gray defeated O'Neill and O'Donnell in August 1539) and the flight of young Gerald Fitzgerald to the continent in the Autumn of 1539. And the very existence of such a concerted movement among the Gaelic Lords was proof of the failure of Gray's policy and of the need for a fresh approach.
In July 1540 such a new direction was foreshadowed with the arrival in Ireland, this time as Lord Deputy, of Sir Anthony St Leger. His earlier experience in the country as royal commissioner had convinced him that conciliation rather than coercion would produce more lasting results in dealing with the Gaelic lordships. This programme, like that of Richard II a century earlier envisaged the creation of a system of government which would incorporate the Gaelic Irish within its framework. By granting the Gaelic lords a status recognised in English Law, confirming the titles of their lands and including them in the governmental process through attendance at an Irish parliament St Leger hoped to win their loyalty to Crown authority in Ireland.
It was in the 4context of his efforts to achieve this that the medieval lordship of Ireland was brought to its formal conclusion with the change, in 1541, of the king's title from 'lord of Ireland' to 'King of Ireland'. Qualms had already been expressed about the use of the older title because it evoked memories of the original grant of Ireland by the papacy to the English king, Henry II, in the twelfth century. In fact one of the arguments used by Silken Thomas's delegation to the papacy in December 1534 was that the King of England held the land of Ireland by papal authority and that, by his rejection of the papal jurisdiction, he had forfeited his right to it. But in tandem with the desire to removed the impression that the pope possessed any sovereignty over Ireland went a more positive objection: to persuade the Gaelic Irish to give their loyalty to the King. The preamble to the act adopting the change of title referred to how "lack of naming the king's majesty and his noble progenitors kings of Ireland....has been great occasion that he Irishmen...have not been so obedient to the king's highness...as they of right...ought to have." Now it was hoped that the Proclamation of Henry king of Ireland, in conjunction with the other measures proposed by St. Leger, would lead to a widespread acceptance of royal authority and the transformation of the "Irish enemies" into faithful subjects.
The medieval lordship, therefore, ended in a period of optimism for the future. The new Kingdom was to signal a new beginning, a progress away from the dissention of the past to an era of harmony in which Saxain, Gaedhil and Gaill could live together in friendship under the jurisdiction of the English crown. Such hopes proved to be short-lived indeed.
THE REFORMATION IN IRELAND
Though the beginning of the reformation can be dated with some precision - the declaration of the Irish parliament in 1536 that Henry VIII was 'the only supreme head in earth of the whole church of Ireland' - the development of a distinct Protestant church took place much later, and was a lengthy and complicated process.
- the traditionally minded clergy, continuing much as before the reformation; the mendicants and other resilient 'survivalist groups; and the seminary priests, trained in the continental centres of the counter-reformation -
The blurring of religious distinctions was inevitable in the early years of the reformation. In Ireland, as in England, Henry VIII was concerned less with doctrine and theology than with authority. The changes introduced by the Irish parliament of 1536 were directed primarily at replacing the power of the pope by the power of the king. Clergy could thus conform to the new regime without dramatic changes in their customary forms of service and observance. Though a short-lived attempt was made in Edward VI's reign to introduce liturgical reforms, the relatively calm transition to a Catholic established church under Mary indicated the failure of the reformation to strike any deep religious or intellectual roots in Ireland.
At the accession of Elizabeth in 1558, therefore, the task of creating a Protestant church began anew. The first steps were legislative: the act of supremacy of 1560 restored royal authority, and made provision for the ecclesiastical commission to oversee the reform of the church; the act of uniformity, of the same year, ordered attendance at the parish church on pain of a fine of 12d., provided for the use of the Book of Common Prayer, and ordered that clergy who could not speak English should conduct the service in Latin. These statutes provided the legislative bases for reformation policy in Ireland. Protestantism was to be introduced into the parish churches by English speaking clergy using the Book of Common Prayer; congregations were to be brought to church by threat of the recusancy fine.
Though modelled on the policy which lead to eventual success in England, such an approach had many drawbacks in sixteenth century Ireland. The very Englishness of the reformation, and the assumption that it would be spread by English-speaking clergy, with an English liturgy, was a major handicap for a reform movement which elsewhere had laid great emphasis on the vernacular. Even the medieval Irish church, united in one faith, had been divided racially. To approach the task of converting Ireland whilst at the same time stressing the use of English was automatically to limit the appeal of Protestantism.
The very Englishness of the reformation had serious long-term implications, since it linked the reform movement closely to the Dublin government, the source of English power and influence in Ireland. Church and State were invariably close in reformation Europe, where it was commonly assumed that the civil arm had a vital role to play in the rooting out of heresy and the imposition of conformity. But the link with the state in Ireland was particularly awkward for the established church, because of the weakness of the Dublin government's power, and the nature of its relations with the Irish polity. There were large areas in Ulster and Connacht where the royal writ did not run, and where, consequently, the Church of Ireland had at best only a nominal presence.
Even in the areas under direct control, the Dublin government was never in a position to offer the church the full-hearted support of the magistrate in enforcing conformity. Sporadic efforts were made in Elizabeth's reign to impose the 12d. fine on recusants, and to further the reformation through the ecclesiastical commission, but they foundered upon the caution of the Dublin administration, anxious neither to overstrain the delicate machinery of local government, nor to test too far the loyalty of subjects at a time when rebellion was almost a normal feature of civil life.
The lack of support from the state added greatly to the already serious structural and personnel problems of the established church. In theory, the reformed church inherited the ministry, property and patronage of the medieval church. In practice, it inherited a ramshackle institution which suffered during the century form still further decay. The resources and incomes of the church declined substantially in the course of the 15th century. In those areas under government control, the dissolution of the monasteries transferred a considerable amount of Church property into lay hands In all areas, especially where the government was weak, local lords and landlords preyed upon church benefices, tithes, dues and other property. Few of them were interested in the cure of souls. Where he a church was impropriated to the landlord he really had not much interest in allocating the revenues towards the training of clergy.
HENRY VII AND IRELAND
Edward IV died on 9 April 1483 and was succeeded by his son Edward V. But on June 25 he was deposed and later executed by his uncle who succeeded him as Richard III. Richard had previously served successfully as the King's lieutenant in the North of England, and there were signs that, given time, he would have taken a lively interest in Irish affairs. For the present however, his accession did not go unopposed in the south; he was finally ousted by the last and doubtful heir of the Lancastrian, Henry Tudor. With French support he mounted an invasion through Wales and defeated Richard at Bosworth on August 22 1485 to become Henry VII. In July 1483 Richard III had confirmed Kildare as Deputy-Lieutenant, but only for a year because he hoped to intervene in person once he had settled England. He also sent William Lacy, clerk of his council in England, with instruction to negotiate the terms of Kildare's appointment, to announce that for the future ministers would hold office at the king's pleasure only, and to order the Irish council to withdraw lightweight and debased English-style coin. In future Irish issues were to be clearly distinguishable from those in England. Kildare however was highly aware of Richard's difficulties and as the king's situation deteriorated Kildare exacted substantially better terms that he had got from Edward IV. Furthermore, he insisted on appointing his own brother, Thomas Fitzgerald as Chancellor against the expressed wishes of an obviously weakened Richard, who wanted Lord Howth to get the job. In August 1484 Kildare is rewarded with a life grant of the manor at Leixlip. King Richard was, even at this late stage, perhaps using Kildare to persuade O'Neill of Ulster to begin the recovery of the King's inheritance there and to accept O'Donnell's submission if he could be induced to come in. O'Neill's sister was married to Kildare.
In 1485 however, a new threat to Kildare's position had arisen: England stood under threat of invasion by the pretender Henry Tudor. If the invasion succeeded Kildare's commission would lapse with the demise of the crown and his strong Yorkist associations would militate against his reappointment. In June 1485, therefore, he had parliament pass an Act which effectively assured his election as justiciar in such circumstances, although the act contravened previous royal commands and is a revealing insight into Kildare's doubts about the future of Richard's position. Briefly, the Act reaffirmed the statute of Henry Fitz Empress, restricting the voting for the election of a new justiciar to the seven principal ministers, chiefly Kildare supporters, and confirmed them in office for life. Thus the earl gained a stronger bargaining position from which to negotiate with the new regime.
Events went more or less according to plan, although the mutual mistrust between Kildare and the new King was evident from the start. Two months after Henry's accession, Kildare was still holding parliament in Richard's name and an accompanying anonymous issue of coins from the Dublin mint suggests that Kildare was hesitating about whether to recognise Henry Tudor. His dilemma was by then one familiar to many English nobles. All had shown a marked reluctance to involve themselves in the dynastic wars and risk attainder by raising troops from their tenantry.
As the King's representative in Ireland however, Kildare could not stand idly by, and many of his difficulties over the next few years sprang from this and the fact that he was as unsure as the rest of Europe about Henry's eventual fate. Initially however, the earl of Lincoln, Richard's heir and Irish lieutenant, submitted and this perhaps dictated Kildare's course of action. Lincoln would soon change his mind, but in March 1486 Kildare was appointed deputy to the King's uncle, Jasper Duke of Bedford, and summoned to court. Henry however had more that enough to occupy himself in England, and anything other than outright resistance on the apart of Kildare would have been tolerated.
The new king had spent most of his life in exile living in his wits. His upbringing inevitably affected his character. He was cautious and calculating, suspicious of baronial independence. Yet his abilities eventually won the respect and sometimes fear of subject and foreigner alike. Kildare asked a high price for his support. He sent a councillor to explain his absence and present petitions. He requested the deputyship for nine or ten years, an annual salary of £1000, the custody of Wicklow Castle with its annual fee of £50, and the grant of Leixlip to himself and his male heirs. Finally he asked for safe conduct to court, signed by some major nobles and the king himself. As Henry pointed out in reply, to grant a safe conduct was inconsistent with the King's honour, but he sent royal letters of protection and urged Kildare to come to court by 1 August, promising to accede to his requests (except for the salary). Moreover, not withstanding the earl's previous activities and associations, he would "as benignly, tenderly and largely take him into the favour of his grace as ever did Edward IV". He does not appear to have gone to court but he did take the precaution of marrying off his daughter to Piers Butler of Polestown, cousin and heir male of the earl of Ormond, who as an erstwhile Lancastrian was now back in favour.
LAMBERT SIMNEL CAST POSES AS EARL OF WARWICK
Kildare's actions did not go unnoticed by the Yorkists. Edward IV's sister, Duchess Margaret of Burgundy, had a boy trained to impersonate the young earl of Warwick, Edward IV's nephew, then a prisoner in the Tower. The boy, Lambert Simnel, crossed to Ireland early in 1487 where his cause was promoted by Kildare's brother, Thomas Fitzgerald. Henry, whose title to the crown was weak when compared with Warwick's, had learned of this by February 2 when the English council discussed the plot and subsequently had the real earl paraded through London in an effort to dissuade possible sympathiser. Nevertheless, Lincoln fled to Burgundy some time after, where Margaret with the assistance of the Emperor Maxmillian gathered a force of 2,000 German troops led by Martin Schwarz. Accompanied by Lincoln and Lord Lovell, the leader of an unsuccessful rebellion against Henry in March 1486, the forces landed at Dublin on May 5. Meanwhile Kildare had convened a meeting of the Pale nobility to consider the boy's claims, which were apparently accepted, but until assured of substantial outside assistance (by which time he had little choice in the matter), he avoided openly committing himself. On May 24, Simnel was crowned King Edward VI in Christ
Church Cathedral, and the courts were kept in Edward's name.
Kildare was promoted lieutenant and summoned parliament which confirmed Edward's title to the crown of England and attainted Thomas and William Butler of treason in adhering to Henry VII. Afterwards the nobles and ministers were very anxious to disclaim any part in the conspiracy; but there does not in fact appear to have been any active opposition to the coup d'etat. Waterford held out for a time, refusing to contribute troops for a royal expedition into Munster. But messengers who were sent to remonstrate with Kildare were hanged on Hogges Green on the earl's orders. The city must have capitulated soon because coins in Edward's name survive from the Waterford mint.
KILDARE AND COHORTS INVADE ENGLAND
For the invasion of England which followed Kildare was able to recruit large numbers of Gaelic kerne, reputedly 4,000, but few archers or billmen. Together with Schwarz's German troops and a small contingent of English Archaists under Lincoln and Lovell, Edward VI set sail on June 4 and landed near Furness in Lancashire on the 11th. Nevertheless, the Yorkist army was allowed very little opportunity to attract support by a circuitous progress southwards: brought to battle at Stoke near Newark, it was heavily defeated by Henry's army in a three-hour battle on the 17 of June. According to an Old English annalist: "the Irishmen did well as any naked men would do," but without armour they were no match for Henry's forces and their slaughter unnerved the others. Most of the leaders perished with them but Simnel was spared and subsequently was given some menial office in the royal household. Kildare held out in Ireland until at least 20 of October, but there was no future in a separatist policy -the Irish mint was issuing coins with the arms of England and Kildare side by side- and he eventually submitted.
HENRY SEEKS ALTERNATIVE PARTNERSHIP
Henry was doing all he could at this time to establish Irish links independently of Kildare: the Yorkist earl of Desmond had been murdered in December 1487 and in April 1488 the King allowed his brother and heir to enter his inheritance without payment of the usual feudal dues. He also granted him the constableship of Limerick Castle and a commission to arrest and try rebels. He appointed Lord Roche as sheriff of Cork and granted charters of English liberties to two of the more anglophile Gaelic chiefs, Cormac MacCarthy of Muskerry and Florence MacCarthy of Carbery. Moreover, at Henry's insistence, Pope Innocent VIII order four Irish bishops to collect information about reputedly treasonous activities of the bishops of Meath and Kildare. And in August 1488 he issued a Bull forbidding, on pain of excommunication, any revolt against Henry and he expressly included the inhabitants of Ireland in the order. By then the king had already issued a general pardon, dated May 25, to 33 leading lords and ministers of the lordship. This was brought by Sir Richard Edgecombe with orders to extract bonds and new oaths of allegiance to Henry to prevent a recurrence of the plotting.
There is a sharp contrast here between the lenient treatment of Kildare and the decision to rule the northern Marshes independently of Percy support when the murder of the fourth earl of Northumberland in 1489 presented the king with a similar opportunity to dispense with noble support. This suggests that individual circumstances rather than a settle policy of curbing magnate power dictated the royal response.
Edgecombe landed at Kinsale on 27 June, took the oaths of the townsmen and Lords Barry and Courcy, sailed round to Dublin via Waterford, arriving on 5 July. Kildare was conveniently absent on a pilgrimage and when he returned Edgecombe "made not reverence or courtesy" as was customary to the kings' deputy, to show Henry's displeasure. The king expected the leading rebels to enter bonds by which they would forfeit large sums of money if they again broke their oaths of allegiance -a practice much favoured by Henry in his struggle against the independence of nobles- and the city of Dublin was bound over on 1,000 marks. But on discussing, the nobles flatly refused this payment and, rather than do so, they threatened, interestingly enough, that "they would become Irish every one of them." Edgecombe's bargaining position was weakened further with the arrival of the news that Henry's ally, James III of Scotland had died. He eventually decided to deliver the pardons in return for solemn oaths of allegiance and support for Henry. This done he left for home on 30 July.
The settlement was far from satisfactory to Henry, but it was all he could manage for the moment. The king's real fears only emerged in the arrangements of 1494-95 when he was in a much stronger position. But plainly the Simnel conspiracy was a startling reminder of the danger of neglecting Ireland. The danger stemmed not simply from Ireland's proximity, but from the fact that the lordship was an English dependency with a ruling elite and a political system which was recognisably English: once again the lordship had been used as a bridgehead for an invasion of the mainland and, despite strong contingents of foreign mercenaries, German and Gaelic, the Yorkist army had found little difficulty in winning local support. Moreover, on this occasion the rebels had legitimised their seizure of power by having a pretender crowned and a parliament called to confirm his claims. Simnel was in fact crowned "King of England, Ireland and France" instead of the traditional title, "King of England and France and Lord of Ireland." The incident raised once again the whole question of Ireland's constitutional relationship with England.
In November 1491 there landed in Cork another pretender, Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Richard duke of York, Edward IV's second son who had probably been murdered in the Tower. He was backed again by Margaret of Burgundy, Charles VIII of France and James IV of Scotland. He received widespread support in Munster too, including Desmond, while Kildare, if not openly involved, remained suspiciously inactive. This time Henry reacted more swiftly and more energetically: he immediately dispatched Thomas Garth and James Ormonde alias Butler, an illegitimate brother of Earl Thomas of Ormond, with 200 men as military governors of Kilkenny and Tipperary which were withdrawn from Kildare's control. In this way he drove a wedge between Desmond and Kildare and earl Thomas was also induced to appoint Ormond as his deputy in place of Kildare's ally, Piers Butler. This temporarily thwarted Warbeck, who had departed in the Spring for the court of France. Henry took the opportunity to dismiss Kildare and his closest supporters. In their places, the archbishop of Dublin, Walter Fitz Simons, was appointed deputy in May, Alexander Plunket was made chancellor and in June James Ormond was appointed treasurer instead of Portlester and then joint governor of Ireland with special responsibility for Munster and south Leinster. Henry however had tried unsuccessfully to get Earl Thomas himself to serve, and Butler supporters were also appointed to three more key offices. Thus Kildare's influence in government was greatly diminished, and by splitting the governorship, Henry hoped that Fitzsimons with his archiepiscopal lands in south Dublin bordering Kildare and Gaelic Wicklow would counter the earl's influence int he Pale, while James Ormond controlled the southern parts.
By mid-1492 therefore a new administration was in control in Dublin, and Henry VII was apparently aiming at a wider diffusion of power in the lordship, perhaps with the Butlers as the principal governing family as under Henry VI. Kildare was in disgrace and given his Yorkist background and activities, he was perhaps lucky not to have died a traitor's death. At any rate, as the Tudor regime consolidated its position, Kildare's chances of renewed employment appeared somewhat bleak indeed.